Jamie Grill/Getty Images

No matter where you are in life, with a little planning, you can stretch you dollars for years to come.

Donna M. Owens
Jan, 15, 2015

When we think about our finances, many of us tend to focus more on what’s now rather than what’s next. We occasionally tap into emergency savings, pensions or 401(k)s to keep up with life’s monetary demands. But with the poverty rate for single Black women over age 65 at 25 percent, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data, and Social Security providing minimum protection, the only way to ensure that you’ll have a bright financial outlook is to plan for it now. Here are a few ideas to get you started at every age.  

After Shelly Marshall relocated to Atlanta in 2004 following a divorce, the Louisville, Kentucky, native supported herself and her son on her earnings as a hairdresser. “I started apprenticing in a popular salon, where star stylists were making $100,000 a year,” explains Marshall, 43. “But when the recession hit, many people struggled. I made decent money from commission and tips, but I was just surviving—paying bills, buying groceries and putting gas in the car.” Now with a teen who’ll soon enter college, Marshall would like to tuck away some of her $50,000 yearly earnings toward retirement. Yet she admits she isn’t sure just how to do that: “Women get together and we discuss men, children and our lives over a glass of wine. But how often do we talk openly about finances? We say, ‘The Lord will make a way,’ and that’s true. But I’d like to empower myself.” Whether you’re in your twenties, thirties, forties or fifties and beyond, it’s not too late to get started  

20s: MAKE A HABIT OF SAVING  

Like many millennials who’ve recently entered the workforce, Maya Slaughter, 23, is navigating a burgeoning career, a social life and finances, which include a car note, credit cards and student loans. “I recently paid off one of my loans,” says Slaughter, who now owes approximately $27,000 that she borrowed for college housing and living costs. Still, the fourth-grade teacher makes room to save: She socks away about $900 a month in her savings account, and $264 comes out of each biweekly paycheck automatically for her pension. When you start a new job, negotiate a salary that accounts for retirement savings, says Zaneilia A. Harris, a certified financial planner and president of Harris & Harris Wealth in Maryland. “Don’t just accept enough to cover living expenses,” she notes. Then begin contributing as much as you can toward your 401(k)—a good starting point is 5 percent. Each time you receive a raise, up the percentage. The goal is to increase it so that you are maxing out the amount that can go toward your 401(k) yearly. For 2015, the max is $18,000. Also worth noting: Contributing any amount to a 401(k) reduces your taxable income.  

30s: CAST A SAFETY NET  

One big thing I didn’t anticipate is how expensive child care is—I pay hundreds of dollars a week,” says  Myque Harris, 36, a school clinical psychotherapist and single mother living in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina. She acknowledges that finances became tighter after her daughter was born four years ago. “Little things are always coming up,” Harris says. “Whether it’s buying tires for the car or uniforms or birthdays.” And while Harris has begun putting money away for retirement, she worries that those savings are not significant. First, have a safety net for your family—six months’ worth of income for unexpected family expenses, says Lisa Frison, a vice-president at Wells Fargo. Next, write down your retirement goals—it’s useful to list your best guesses for the age at which you want to retire, where you want to live and what you plan to do. Last, bulk up your savings: You’ll benefit hugely from the power of compound interest—which can help a deposit grow at a faster rate. To get a handle on managing your day-to-day expenses, make a budget. “This may seem overwhelming for many women, but it doesn’t have to be. A budget is the best tool for seeing where your hard-earned dollars are going and helping you stick to your limit,” says Frison.  

40s: DIVERSIFY YOUR ASSETS  

Zaneta Hargrove feels fortunate to have what folks sometimes refer to as a good government job. The federal analyst earns a six-figure salary, which affords her a comfortable lifestyle. But she isn’t relying solely on Uncle Sam when it comes to her retirement nest egg. “A friend suggested I purchase a multifamily property and have the rental income offset my mortgage,” says Hargrove. “I would live in one of the units for a few years, then move on to the next property when the opportunity arose.” Since 2001, Hargrove, 46, has successfully acquired two multiunit buildings and a town house; they have a combined market value of $1.8 million. “I expect either the sales proceeds from my investment properties or rental income will contribute to my retirement,” says Hargrove, whose portfolio also includes savings and a 401(k) plan that is matched by her employer. “I would love to retire by age 60, but no later than 65,” she says. “I think that I am moving in the right direction.” Financial planner Harris says that diversifying your portfolio can put you on the right track. “We don’t just have one pair of shoes and the same should be the case for owning assets,” Harris says. “Buy mutual funds on a monthly basis or participate in your company’s direct stock purchase programs. Have these deductions set up automatically so you don’t have to send a check or transfer money.” Now that you’re likely earning more, try to save more too. “A good goal is to save 15 percent of your income,” says Frison.  

50s: CONSIDER YOUR GOALS  

According to a 2014 Wells Fargo financial survey, 73 percent of African Americans expect to be enjoying a leisurely retirement when they are 80 years old, 64 percent expect to be traveling and 42 percent plan to do new things they never had time for earlier in life. “However, fewer than half have a detailed written retirement savings or investment strategy,” says Frison. In your fifties you should get a handle on how many years you will be retired and start making financial plans based on this amount of time, suggests Frison. “Women need to save more for retirement than men, since women live longer, on average. As a rule of thumb, given today’s longevity statistics, try to have enough in savings to last for 30 years or more,” she says. If you’re behind in your savings goal, take a look at catch-up strategies, such as monthly contributions to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). 

This article was originally published in the February 2015 issue of ESSENCE Magazine, on newsstands now!